How to Become an Agile Business

In today’s competitive landscape, it’s important for a business to be able to rapidly adapt to market and environmental changes. “Agile” is the buzzword associated with this ability to adapt quickly to changing situations; but what is “agile” and how can a business become an “agile business”?

Agile is a philosophy, not a process. Although originally used for software development, it’s now used by companies large and small in any industry. According to the Agile Manifesto, agile refers to:

  • Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
  • Working software over comprehensive documentation
  • Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
  • Responding to change over following a plan

Becoming an agile business is a process that constantly needs work. Is it worth it? According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, agile firms grow revenue 37% faster and generate 30% higher profits.

Here are some guidelines for becoming an agile business:

Create focus. Don’t be distracted. Get rid of a long list of priorities and instead replace it with a short, manageable list of three or four items that are “must dos”. As you complete one item, add another to your list. This will keep you focused.

Communicate your vision. Communication is the key to change and change-worthy behaviour. Communicate with employees often, be transparent and give them clear and compelling reasons to embrace agility and become agile champions.

Hire the right people. The success of your business rests on hiring the right people – employees who are aligned with your vision and your values. In order to be agile, the employees you hire must be results-oriented, not task-oriented. They must be able to work within an organization that gives them the freedom and the responsibility to accomplish their jobs without a step-by-step instruction manual on how to do it.

Create autonomy. You can’t maintain a stranglehold on your employees and micromanage every decision in an agile environment. Senior managers need to lessen their direct control over day-to-day activities and give their employees control over how they do their work. Give your employees the environment and support they need and have confidence that they’ll get the job done.

Be prepared for the unexpected. Although you can’t plan for the unexpected, you can be prepared for it. Agile businesses are flexible, adaptable and expect change. They are ready for all eventualities and can quickly pivot. Changing requirements are the name of the game.

Agile is motivating. An agile environment by nature is motivating. Instead of working on the same project month after month with little change, an agile environment empowers employees to respond to changes, giving them freedom to become more than their job descriptions.

How agile is your company? Want more advice on becoming an agile business, or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you!

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Focus on the Human Side of CRM to Improve the Customer Experience

The Customer Relationship Management industry (CRM) has exploded. It’s estimated that 91% of business with more than 11 employees now use a CRM system. CRM is a term that refers to the strategies, technology, and practices that companies incorporate into their business to manage and analyze customer interactions and data. However, many businesses are not realizing the full benefits of CRM because they’re entirely focused on the data and ignore the human side of CRM. The data will tell you how to manage customers, but not how to build relationships with them. Computers don’t build relationships; people do.

In today’s highly competitive marketplace, the success of your business depends upon delivering customer-focused experiences and processes. I have outlined below a few tips I’d recommend for staying focused on the human side of CRM.

Don’t overlook the human side of CRM

Helping is the new selling” are the latest buzzwords being bantered around these days. It speaks to relationships and a service-oriented mindset. Although CRM has the potential to provide deep insight into both individual clients and general trends, it’s imperative that you connect and engage with your customers in a meaningful way or you diminish the value of your CRM system. No amount of data can provide the human touch.

Implementing a CRM system doesn’t automatically deliver results

Databases full of client information are the basis on which to improve customer engagement, but never lose sight of the relationship-side of technology. The success of your business depends on the human element.

Being authentic

This is crucial in any industry. Your sales team are the ones that can help your organization achieve its revenue goals. The human interaction between your salespeople and your customers is what will ultimately differentiate you from your competition, and bring them back again.

Listening

This skill is highly underrated. Do your sales people listen? Do they understand what your customers value? Can they educate and inform? Can they close the deal?

In order for CRM to deliver on its promise, ensure that the data and the human element are fully integrated.

Want more advice on how to get the most out of your CRM system, or general advice from other business owners like you? Find out if a TAB Board is right for you.


The Best Managers are the Best Communicators

As a business owner, you dedicate much of your time to communicating with your clients. While this is crucial for your business, equally important is communicating with your employees. Internal communication touches every aspect of your business from announcing the onboarding of a new client, to introducing a new product to your business line. No matter the size, industry, or type of company you own, I recommend having an internal communications process embedded in everything you do.

An internal communications process allows for the exchange of information between all members of your organization, which will save you time and money. In fact, companies with effective internal communications processes experience 47% higher total returns than those that are not effective at communicating.

I’ve outlined below 3 key elements to help you establish an effective internal communications process.

  1. Have the Right Mechanisms in Place to Keep Employees Informed

Your internal communication mechanisms must be strategic, in order to be targeted and the most beneficial. Consider your company’s current mechanisms, from the methods of communication it uses, to the way your company engages with and seeks feedback from your staff, to the way it measures if the mechanism is successful and identifies any issues for future change.

Choosing what mechanisms to use depends on your size and budget. If your company has multiple locations, you may decide to invest in passive, large-scale communication options to disseminate information. Creating an intranet (a private network only available to a company’s staff) is one great option. If your business is smaller, consider using more conventional communication channels such as an internal newsletter, e-blast, Director’s blog, or notice board. I have even seen some companies benefit from using social networking sites as their primary means of internal communication. More directed options could include Breakfast Briefs for front-line staff, a monthly Director Communications Day, scheduled Director Q&A drop-ins, or Lunch & Learns.

No matter what mechanism(s) you choose, the bottom line is that employees have access to a platform where they can receive important company information so they stay abreast of the information they need to do their job.

  1. Creating a Two-Way Loop

Having great communication mechanisms in place is vital, but ensuring that they consistently generate engagement between management and employees is a key step. It is imperative that business owners and managers actively respond to feedback received and ensure a loop is created, as opposed to a top-down form of communication. By acting on the honest feedback reported by employees encourages more of the same – staff telling it “like it is”.

  1. Measuring the Mechanisms

To ensure that the communication mechanisms you choose are working effectively, incorporating measurement indicators, such as scheduled weekly face-to-face meetings with actionable items reported for follow-up, anonymous employee surveys offered at quarterly or annual company all-staff meetings, or through specific activity surveys through the intranet, could help identify gaps, what is or isn’t working, and what methods of communication work best for your employees.

Regardless of which avenues you choose, the main goal is to ensure employees have several effective paths available to them where they can communicate with senior management and feel heard.

Communicating with your employees is essential for the productivity of your business. Does your company have an internal communications process in place?


5 Steps to Getting Your Business Back on Track

tab-croissance-1080x675One of the biggest challenges I find many small business owners face is dealing with complacency. When a new business first starts out, owners are overcome with excitement with every forward step. But at one point or another, the excitement of the early days starts to slow down, and eventually your company may begin to experience a plateau.

A stagnant business is one that faces little to no new activity for an extended period of time. Complacency tends to come from sticking with the status quo and getting used to your business’s “comfort zone”. Many business owners adhere to the mindset of “if it was working for the first 5 years, why change it now?” The truth is, sometimes change is exactly what you need to revitalize your business and get it growing again.

If you’re facing complacency in your business, below are 5 steps for revitalizing your business to get it back on track for growth.

1) Find out what your customers want

A lack of understanding about what your customers truly want from your business can be detrimental to your small business. This is why engaging in market research is essential to drive your company’s growth. Have you had a conversation with your customers to find out what needs are being met, and what needs aren’t? By hiring a market research company or a marketing agency with a specialization in market research to conduct unbiased market research, you will be able to gain invaluable information about your customers as well as your competitors. Once you’ve done this research, you’ll have a much better idea about how you can fulfill your customers’ needs to the best of your ability.

2) Focus on increases in certain sectors and products

Your industry landscape changes at such a rapid pace, and as a small business owner, it’s important that you keep up-to-date with it. Look at projected growth sectors to get an understanding of which products or services are headed for long-term growth, and which ones are on the decline. Some may be obvious, but others may not be so apparent. This is why it’s crucial to take the time and do proper research. Once you have a better idea about the projected growth rate of certain sectors, consider shifting your business model to become more aligned with these industry changes.

3) Re-examine former revenue sources

While focusing on changes in the industry landscape is important, equally important is looking at what has traditionally brought you revenue. After the first few years of your business, you may have lost focus on areas that were once reliable sources of revenue for your company. Have you steered your attention towards niche areas as a result of increased demand, and lost sight of your more dependable revenue sources? If your business has stalled, one of the first things you should do is gauge whether or not you have neglected some of your core competencies at the expense of chasing something new.

4) Review your company’s operations

I’ve found that many small businesses do not focus enough time and energy on their internal operations. Often, owners struggle to let go of the “startup” mindset they once had. This is a shame, as a company’s internal operations can have a huge influence on the productivity of their business. As your business grows, it’s important you grow with it. In a previous blog, I discussed the importance of delegation. Are you delegating work where necessary? Have you considered outsourcing certain tasks to allow you to focus on growing your business?

5) Create a plan

The only way you will be able to properly execute the above steps is if you have a solid plan in place. It’s essential you know exactly what resources are required and how much time and energy is needed to accomplish what you want done. Understanding these two key areas will allow you to set realistic short-term and long-term goals for your business. Remember, making any large-scale changes to your company takes time, so patience is needed to see through your goals.

It is important to keep the momentum going in order for your business not to stall. Although complacency is a frustrating obstacle to face, it is quite common. By following these 5 steps on how to revitalize your business, you’ll be equipped with the confidence to move forward and make the necessary changes needed to get your business back on the track you want it to be.


The Roles They Are A-Changin’

changes-aheadAs a business owner, you know how important it is to keep things fresh and innovative in your workplace, but when making changes, you’ll need to consider how your plans might impact your employees.

If you are in the process of job redesign where employees are assigned new roles that play into their strengths and contribute to a more successful business, these changes can be stressful to your employees. If someone has been hired for a particular job and then he or she is suddenly expected to perform a different role in the organization, tension and stress can result.

A recent report found that 46% of 1,018 Canadian employees recently surveyed had taken time off work or noticed other employees taking sick leave following workplace changes, a common symptom of a stressed-out workplace.

I’ve outlined below a few tips on how you can shift roles in your organization without contributing to employee stress:

  1. Share your vision.

Why are you doing this? What is this change going to accomplish for your organization? Sharing this vision with employees will allow them to understand exactly why this is happening, and help them find their part in it.

  1. Keep the lines of communication open in regards to role change.

Ask employees how they feel they can contribute to a new role and encourage conversation. By doing this, you can evaluate each employee’s strengths and weaknesses, while giving them an opportunity to work in a new role they would truly enjoy.

Make sure employees stay up to date as things begin to shift. For example, when you have made some final role decisions, send out an email to all staff informing them of the new structure. Keeping everyone in the know will ensure a smooth transition process.

  1. When your employees begin their new role, make sure they feel supported.

Assuming a new role can be challenging, especially if the employee doesn’t have a lot of previous experience in the position. Positive reinforcement can go a long way, as employees are less likely to experience stress when they report a positive and supportive workplace culture.

In today’s workplace, you need to keep things fresh, but maintain a balance against a backdrop of inclusiveness and communication. Learning how to handle change effectively is what will keep your team on the right path to growing your business.

How have you successfully restructured your business?


Did 2015 Measure Up to Your Business Plans for the Year?

measureRemember back in January of this year, when your vision for your business was fresh and clear in your mind, when your business goals and objectives had a well-defined path to achievement?  If you are like most business owners, your vision may have remained the same, but the execution and delivery to meet your goals and achievements was not exactly how you had planned.  This is typical of most businesses, as our plans cannot possibly allow for unpredicted circumstances, whether positive or negative.

In preparing for the New Year, I encourage you to take the time to reflect on this past year and start preparing your plans for the New Year by considering the following questions:

  • Revisit the tracking of your business plan and any other planning documents including your action plan, and review last year’s goals.  Did your business accomplish what you set out to do? Why or why not? Write a list of all the company’s major accomplishments for the year (or lack of them). These will be handy when you do your business planning for the current year.
  • What barriers prevented you from reaching your goals? How can you avoid them or prepare for them in 2016?
  • What is the key area you want to improve on in 2016? What steps do you need to take to accomplish this e.g. hire more staff, expand into new markets, increase marketing/branding, etc.?
  • Are there things you might have done differently e.g. hired too quickly, expanded too quickly, didn’t hire fast enough, etc.?
  • Have you started a business plan for 2016 that includes writing your goals and plans for next year?
  • Have you created a budget for the next year if you work on a calendar year fiscal basis?
  • Have you reviewed your vendors and providers recently? Do you need new ones or replacements for existing ones? Review your list and score them, see where you might need to add or even get rid of any that are not providing you with added value.
  • Have you reviewed and updated your marketing and advertising plans?  Make sure you consult with your internal or external marketing professional to ensure you are strategically placing your marketing budget to align with your business goals.

We all know how important business planning is, so before you break for the holidays, take the time to reflect and plan for the New Year. You know the cliché: businesses that fail to plan, plan to fail.

Kick the New Year off with a clear plan with attainable goals and remember to take time off over the holidays and enjoy time with your family and friends.  Thank you for following my blog over the past year. Happy Holidays.


LinkedIn: A Powerful Business Tool at Your Fingertips

linkedin tipsLinkedIn is the world’s largest professional network, with over 300 million registered users in over 200 countries and territories, so it should come as no surprise that LinkedIn is one of the most powerful business development tools available today. Business owners and key sale leaders can leverage the power of LinkedIn for forging strong connections and finding new business.

LinkedIn has become the new “Rolodex”, the go-to place for finding colleagues, current clients, potential clients and vendors. With a professional profile, image and regular participation in groups, your network will increase, which in turn increases your reach and exposure and potential business opportunities. Many business owners would agree that LinkedIn has great potential, but are either concerned about the time commitment or are unsure how to go about getting started.

Here are a few simple steps to get you started in engaging in business development activities on LinkedIn:

  • Step 1 – Look Professional: Just like a face-to-face introduction, your profile page is your first chance to make a good impression. Users with complete profiles are 40 times more likely to receive opportunities through LinkedIn. This means:
    • Invest some time in writing a professional summary
    • Add your skills
    • Have a professional picture taken (do not take a selfie)
    • Add volunteer experience and any awards you have won

They have recently added a recommendation feature on LinkedIn, which is like having an endorsement for your services. Try to have at least 4 recommendations on your profile page.

  • Step 2 – Make Connections: Having a long list of connections is essential for increasing exposure and the likelihood of others finding you, but make sure they are the “right” type of connections.
    • Decide if there is an industry you want to target or a type of job title e.g. accountant – simply search for exactly what you are looking for
    • Once you have a few potential connections, find out more about them by visiting their profiles, seeing if you have connections in common, where they are located, etc.
    • Send them a connection request by introducing who you are and the reason for contacting them
    • If they accept your invitation, be active and take the initiative by arranging a phone call or a face-to-face meeting
  • Step 3 – Join Groups: Think of these as a local Chamber of Commerce. There are groups for every industry, and they function as a place to ask questions, perform research, make new connections, and get noticed.
    • Search groups that you think your target audience will visit
    • Join ONLY as many groups as you can manage. Groups tend to send notifications, which is good if you plan to keep up with them, but annoying if you don’t
    • Participate in the groups on a regular basis if you can. Your audience needs to hear from you and see you being active and offering expert advice
    • Comment on other people’s posts, “like” them, and most importantly see who the regular contributors are and see if there is opportunity to work together or connect in some way
    • To connect with them, follow Step 2

In addition to using LinkedIn as a business development and marketing tool, the platform can also be used for recruitment. Whether it’s sharing a job posting on your company profile, or paying for a job posting or sponsored job ad, LI allows you to see in a click of a button a more complete look at your candidates.

As you can see, LinkedIn has a lot to offer but the biggest step is making the decision to give it the time it deserves to foster and manage potential leads. From personal experience, investing time in LI as a business development tool will yield results that far outweigh that time investment.

Do you use LI for business development now? How much time do you dedicate to it and are there other features of LI that you have found helpful for business development?